NANNING, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- Chinese zoologist Pan Wenshi, 80, believes the secret of his success in saving endangered white-headed langurs is not just love for the animals, but also his love for people.
During the past 20 years, he and his team at Peking University have helped the langurs, one of the world's 25 most endangered primate species and exclusive to China, recover their habitat from the hands of their human neighbors and restore their once dwindling population.
Instead of driving the local villagers away, Pan led a campaign to improve their lives so that they became friends of the monkeys, which are characterized by their white head hair.
A new book on his field-research is to be the most authoritative and comprehensive monograph ever written on the species.
Though initially a prominent researcher of the giant panda, in 1996 Pan went to the karst mountains of Chongzuo, southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, to study the langurs.
"I wanted to explore the evolution from animal society to human society," Pan said, adding that Chongzuo gave him a chance to study both man and monkey, where they both coexist.
Three abandoned rooms at the foot of the Nongguan Mountain, a langur habitat, were all he had for a research base. Residing there, he cooked on a clay stove and slept on a straw mat.
Pan soon found that rampant logging, grass fires and stone exploitation were destroying the species' habitat, and almost led to the extinction of the langurs in the 1990s. The root cause of the langurs' predicament was clearly the extreme poverty that forced villagers to feed themselves at the cost of the local environment.
"They had nothing except small patches of farmland," Pan said.
Pan once hired a local farmer as his assistant, and gave him some dessert to take to his children as a gift. The next day, he asked if the children had enjoyed it.
"I ate it before I got home. I was too hungry," the farmer replied.
Pan was shocked at such hunger, but soon understood when he visited the family and saw the food that they had to feed a family of eight -- a single pot of porridge. Their neighbors were just as hungry.
He once saw an elderly villager drink water from a pond where several buffaloes had just relieved themselves. Due to contaminated drinking water, many men in the village suffered from liver diseases, the women from cervical cancer.
It was clear that the villagers cut wild plants and took stone from the mountain as they needed to make ends meet and had little choice.
It was no wonder the langurs were badly treated. Some villagers even killed the langurs to make medicated liquor believed to cure disease; a movie ticket could be exchanged for two langurs.
SAVE PEOPLE FIRST
Pan realized that if the lives of villagers were not improved, the langurs would soon be extinct.
"It will not be too late if we delay our research on langurs for 100 or 200 years, but if we don't save the villagers first, the monkeys' habitat will be totally ruined," he said
First, he encouraged the use of biogas as an alternative to firewood, to restore local vegetation.
In 2000, he donated a 100,000 yuan (14,500 U.S. dollars) environmental award he received from the Ford Motor Company, to build biogas tanks in three nearby villages.
Later, he collected 2.14 million yuan from the central government and other donors to set up the tanks for over 1,800 families in 14 villages around the Nongguan Mountain.
Finally, he persuaded the local government to help villagers grow sugarcane, which had a higher economic value than rice, the traditional village crop. He also told them to reduce the use of pesticides for the sake of the environment and to lower costs.
The average per capita income of the Nongguan Mountain villagers reached more than 6,000 yuan in 2015 from less than 400 yuan in 1996.
In addition, he collected 13.7 million yuan over 20 years from donors, including his friends at home and abroad, private companies and the government, to build a primary school, two clinics, three drinking water projects and a two-kilometer-long road for nearby villages, as well as set up a biological museum, an education center and an ecological park featuring the langurs.
As the villagers' lives improved, the langur population thrived. Currently, Chongzuo is home to more than 800 white-headed langurs, up from just 96 when Pan first arrived.
"We have many endangered species in the world, but it doesn't mean they have come to the end. They can recover as long as we give them enough time and space," Pan said.